Sunday, October 18, 2009

Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division
The Inside Story of the First Openly Gay Pop-Punk Band
Jon Ginoli
Cleis Press, 2009

This out and proud memoir starts out as a coming out/coming of age story. Ginoli was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois, came out to himself as a teen, and got into 70s punk rock, especially Tom Robinson, the UK's first out punk rocker. He moved to Champaign to attend college, and found himself more comfortable in Champaign's underground music scene than the gay club scene. He started a band named The Outnumbered, which had some success, and signed with Homestead records. Ginoli wasn't out publicly at the time, his lyrics were closeted, with no-gender specific pronouns, and nothing that could be construed as openly gay.

Ginoli moved to L.A. after graduation to work at a music store, and later at Rough Trade. He didn't like L.A. and moved to San Francisco, where he got involved with ACT-UP, and occasionally rallies and demonstrations with Queer Nation. He got the idea to form a gay pop-punk band from the wonderful lesbian folk/punk band Two Nice Girls, who, along with Phranc, predated Melissa Etheridge and were a lot more out than she and other out musicians who followed.

Ginoli wanted to put into song what he got from performance artist Karen Finley, a woman who celbrated feminism and denounced sexism in very radical terms and Two Nice Girls. He wanted rock with a clear, direct, and fun viewpoint about being out and gay. Ginoli wrote funny and dirty songs about sex that were personal and political statements. "ANTHEM" from the first Pansy Division album, has lyrics about disliking Judy Garland, who is a gay icon. Garland's status was based on rumors that she was gay friendly. A new generation of out musicians was coming to the fore who wanted an alternative to standard gay male and lesbian culture.

Pansy Division is a play on words and a protest on the Panzer Division, a WW 2 German army unit that sent l/b/g/t people to the camps, too. It was the right name at the right time. “Homocore” or “queercore” (the terms were interchangeable) was just starting as a trend, and the band got lumped in with that scene, even though they didn’t like hardcore. But the trend got them signed with Lookout Records, where they met Green Day.

Green Day had been Lookout Records' biggest seller, who eventually signed with Warner Brothers. Their first album was a huge hit, and the band decided to mess with their newfound jock audience by taking Pansy Division on tour with them. Suddenly Pansy Division had a taste of the mainstream, liked it, and had loads of fun. The women who went to the Green Day shows became the biggest fans of Pansy Division on that tour. They liked Pansy Division's music and their message that some guys, no matter if they're gay or straight, can be jerks. There was much homophobia, though, from other, mostly male fans, and people in the industry. There were times when Green Day refused to play if Pansy Division couldn’t play. Green Day won those points.

The lesson from touring with Green Day was that Pansy Division found what worked and what didn’t work musically. They remained on Lookout and toured all over the world. There was still lots of homophobia, even from out musicians, and many people found their viewpoint a little too extreme. Dustin, a neurotic drummer whose problems caused much tension within the band, eventually was asked to leave the band. And the scene which had spawned feminist and out punk rock bands slowly faded.

In later years, Pansy Division found their niche, with a solid audience, and are still together today. Their songs also became more relationship-oriented.

Ginoli is a good writer, wry, honest, and has a light touch on some of the little wrinkles about being gay and liking rock. That he tells his story so well made this book a must read, a window on an alternative that was needed then, and is needed now.
Andrea Weiss

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